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Atmosphere: BrewDog Manchester

It should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog (hi, you two) that one of my favourite pubs is Mr Foley’s in Leeds.  As I’ve mentioned before, the careful selection of interesting cask, keg and bottled beers that makes Mr Foley’s what it is, has until now been down to the manager Dean Pugh.

In a trans-Pennine transfer, Dean has now moved on to manage the newly-opened BrewDog Manchester, becoming @BrewDogBarDean in the process.  A few of us went to see the new bar at 35 Peter Street on Saturday.

I was impressed.  If you’ve been to one of the other BrewDog bars (I’ve visited Glasgow and Edinburgh) you’ll know what to expect: an interesting range of keg beers, no cask beers, an excellent selection of imported bottles, good music and a stylish slightly industrial decor using reclaimed materials.  Manchester is over two floors, and I think it’s probably one of the biggest of the bars.

Kate and I enjoyed a few great beers.  On keg we had:

BrewDog Dead Pony Club, the rew 3.8% session ale, which had a lot of fruit flavour with a significant amount of grapeskin;

BrewDog Dogma, a pleasantly sweet dark honeyed Scotch ale; and

Mikkeller 19, a deliciously sweet and complex IPA using 19 single-hopped beers (and a successor to Mikkeller 10).

The bottles we enjoyed were:

Mikkeller Belgian Tripel, a pleasant example of the style brewed with coriander and orange peel;

Mikkeller Single Hop Citra, a single-hopped beer that Kate found enjoyable in its own right (rather than just a tutorial on the characteristics of the hop);

Port Brewing Mongo, a big, citrus-fresh Californian double IPA; and

BrewDog Anarchist Alchemist, the new 14% “triple IPA”, which tastes like Hardcore IPA with a bit more barley wine character, but not so much as to be overpowering.

With all those strong beers, it’s a good job that there’s some food on offer, and the burger and pizza menu (three of each) designed by Masterchef winner and occassional BrewDog collaborator Tim Anderson, is very tempting.  I tried a slice of a tasty veggie pizza with breaded aubergine and had a Milwaukee burger: an excellent pork burger with pickles and sauerkraut.

Manchester is already well-served with great pubs, from the Marble Arch to Port Street Beer House.  But if I were a Mancunian I would be very happy to welcome BrewDog to the city: a nice place to spend an afternoon with some great beers and good company.

Following the visit, I’m pinning my hopes on the BrewDog Leeds licence application being successful.  The recent AGM presentation suggests that, if it the licence is granted, BrewDog Leeds will open in September 2012.

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Dubbel Trouble, Tripel Threat: Marble Manchester Dubbel & Tripel

September 14, 2011 4 comments

I took (dragged, really) my brother and my father up the rather unpicturesque Rochdale Road in Manchester recently to get to the wonderful Marble Arch pub. Whilst we were there, I couldn’t resist buying Marble’s two new special large bottles, although they set me back about £23 in all. I’ve been impressed by Marble’s previous big bottles, including Utility IPA, Stout Port Stouter Porter Stoutest (or similar), and their version of De Molen’s Vuur & Vlam.

These two new bottles were especially appealing, as their take on a Belgian dubbel and tripel coincided with my increased interest in Belgian beers following my trip to Bruges. Although they were both probably suited to cellaring (shoving in a cardboard box in the spare room), I decided to open them both over the last weekend.

I popped open the Manchester Dubbel (8.5% ABV) in front of In Bruges on DVD, with Colin Farrell mocking “gay beers”, swigging Leffe from the bottle and being fascinated by dwarves. This turned out to be a good version of what I consider a dubbel to be. It had a huge, persistent head, and a really sweet and bitter dark chocolate smell. In the taste, the dark chocolate snuggled down with some licquorice and an obvious booziness to make a warming, comforting beer, especially after the fizziness had subsided. Unsurprisingly this paired well with some dark Belgian chocolate.

The Manchester Tripel (9%) is an interesting one: Pouring again with a large head, this dispersed much quicker than the Dubbel’s. It smells and tastes richly of citrussy American hops with a nice medium maltiness to match the cloudy gold-to-amber colour. The hop bitterness builds up over the course of the drink to a quite acidic taste, and the malty sweetness eventually accumulates as well, suggesting the beer is best drunk with food (cheese) or shared (Kate didn’t like it). Having said that, it hides its 9% well (although I say that so often I may be suffering ABV Shift) and I really enjoyed the beer.

However I really enjoyed it as a US-style double IPA, rather than a “tripel”. As a term, “tripel” does seem to be a bit contentious; style icon Michael Jackson said differing things about the word in different publications, but this is the definition on the Beer Hunter website:

Dutch-language term usually applied to the strongest beer of the house, customarily top-fermenting often pale in colour, occasionally spiced with coriander. The most famous is made in Westmalle, Belgium.

Regardless of this (probably necessarily) rather wide definition, I have a view of what a Tripel is from those I’ve tried, including Westmalle, Karmeliet, Straffe Hendrik, Corsendonk and De Garre. They’re all strong blonde beers with varying degrees of hop flavour.

The Manchester Tripel may or may not be “on-style”: I’ll leave that question for more knowledgeable writers. It isn’t the beer I expected it to be, however, with the powerful New World hop flavour overpowering any noticeable “Belgian” qualities. I wouldn’t have had that reaction to a very enjoyable beer had it been described in a different way, perhaps as a “Belgian-style IPA”. But that’s my problem and many people will enjoy having their expectations defied, or simply appreciating the beer for what it is, rather than what it isn’t.

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Hardy Boys and Girls: Chorlton Beer Festival, Manchester

July 10, 2011 11 comments

I do like beer festivals.  CAMRA are subject to a lot of criticism (some of which is justified) and stereotyping (some of which is hard to disprove), but the organisation and volunteering behind local beer festivals is a testament to a common interest that these people are willing to sacrifice their time pursuing and promoting.

So, in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy at the weekend, I went to a beer festival in a churchyard and tried a lot of nice beers, the best of which (to my mind, and of those that happened to be still on in the four hours I was there) was Moor Illusion, a nice hoppy porter/black IPA (Who knows?  It smelled great and tasted really good).

I sat outside on garden furniture; chatted with my brother and his girlfriend; listened to some live light jazz; witnessed a dramatic moment when a plastic gazebo was destroyed by the wind; ate a roast pork sandwich; saw two friendly vicars; used a chemical toilet of only moderate eurgh-ness; and was surrounded by people who were having a good time.

Chorlton-Cum-Hardy seems very Nigel Slater: jute bags; yummy mummies; designer cupcakes; and yoga.  I live in a not-dissimilar (but not quite as marvellous) area of Leeds.  Days like this, and the Chapel Allerton festival in Leeds (not strictly a beer festival, but usually served by a Roosters stall) help us think that we live in villages even though we don’t: we live in cities and arguably, in both cases cited, unrepresentative middle class enclaves inside those cities.

We actually live in a massively complex  overlapping Venn diagram comprised of electronically-connected diasporas of shared social and economic interests, rather than simply geographically proximite communities.  As such mutual interests go (knitting; yoga; accountancy; battle reenacting; comics; medicine; death metal; crown green bowls; dogging), beer is a good one for me, and I’m very grateful for the volunteers that allow us to enjoy and share such an interest, in the sunshine with friends, on days like this. Because we all need to feel like we belong, and a good beer or four helps that process immensely.

Small Beer: Micro Bar, Unit FC16, Arndale Food Market, Manchester City Centre

June 14, 2011 6 comments

At 11.17am on Saturday 15 June 1996, a 3,300lb bomb in a Ford Cargo lorry exploded on Corporation Street in Manchester, injuring 212 people.  The bombing was part of a renewed Provisional IRA campaign to cause massive economic damage on the mainland, which had been kicked off four months previously with the truck bomb at Canary Wharf in London that ended the 1994 ceasefire.  This spasm of violence (likely prompted by a stalemate in peace negotiations and a power struggle within the PIRA) was fortunately short-lived, and the Good Friday Agreement was signed less than two years later.

The vicinity of the bomb site at the Corporation Street side of the Arndale Centre has, in the last 15 years, been regenerated into the posh end of Manchester shopping. In fact I was in Manchester a few weeks ago looking in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (both post-1996 additions) for a wedding suit.  More of a one-off expense for me; but this is just the place to spend your money as a well-paid footballer, or more likely a footballer’s wife or girlfriend (of whom there would seem to be a very much larger number than footballers).

Having picked suits with my brother, and with him having spotted a Manchester City keeper buying designer clothes (I’d never heard of him), we decided to get a drink.  On this wet day (it seems to rain an awful lot in Manchester), I didn’t want to go to the Northern Quarter or up the Rochdale Road, and The Good Beer Guide app on my iPhone had mainly identified a number of uninspiring-sounding Wetherspoons pubs in the area.  However it also mentioned the following interesting possibility.

Micro Bar is in the Arndale Food Market, at the other end of the shopping centre from the regenerated bling of Manchester Exchange.  It’s currently owned by Boggart Brewery  of Newton Heath (birthplace of at least one empire) and is, as the name suggests, a tiny bar and beer shop surrounded by the other food outlets, including both prepared food and a excellent-looking fishmongers and butchers.  This small stall/bar has apparently been going for some time under the control of Paradise Brewery (no, me neither) although Oh Good Ale and Tandleman’s reports suggest that it has improved massively under Boggart.  

The selection on the  five or so hand-pumps was varied and we tried Dark Star Saison (very pleasant and an interesting style to try on cask) and Pictish Brewer’s Gold.  The bottled selection was also good; obviously not as comprehensive as much larger shops such as Beer Ritz in Leeds or The Bottle in York, it did have a solid variety of American craft beers (Brooklyn, Flying Dog, Goose Island, Sierra Nevada, Anchor) and Belgians, as well a very interesting range from smaller English breweries.  These included some I’d never seen in bottles before, including Kirby Lonsdale.  Usefully these also had little brown paper luggage tags with descriptions.

Anthony Bourdain, in his most recent book Medium Raw, suggests that well-made street food is the way of the future in the West.  Arndale Food Market doesn’t quite have the feel of Borough Market in London or the rather wonderful Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, and despite the football cash Manchester, like most of the North, probably still leans more towards Greggs’ pasties than freshly-made tapas.

However, it’s still a good start, and Micro Bar makes me wish Kirkgate Markets in Leeds had somewhere similar, to drink a good beer whilst either considering your shopping list for that night’s dinner party, or simply munching on a steak bake.

The Cream Of Manchester Part 2: Marble Beer House, Chorlton

April 4, 2011 4 comments

After visiting The Port Street Beer House on Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we stayed the night in Chorlton-cum-Hardy with my brother and his girlfriend.  Chorlton seems to be a relatively affluent, but also young and alternative suburb with elements of places like Chapel Allerton, Stoke Newington and Hebden Bridge.

As such, it has a range of pubs from tapas bars to more traditional ones, and even a brewpub in the slightly unlikely mock-Tudor The Horse And Jockey.  The Marble Arch pub on the Rochdale Road, famous for its own fantastic beers and beautiful listed exterior and interior, also has a spin-off pub here in The Marble Beer House.

I really like Marble beers and it makes sense to have an outlet in what appears to be quite a buzzy residential suburb.  The Beer House is decked out more like a cafe bar than the more traditional Marble Arch.  However it’s still a very nice pub, with a frontage displaying Marble’s simple and iconic logo and an interior with bookshelves and some appropriately Mancunian photos of urban decay and smartarse grafitti. All of which lends itself to chatting with friends or a drink over the paper in the afternoon.

The beers on offer were naturally great, including the fantastic Manchester Bitter and Pint.  My brother enjoyed Marble Chocolate and I couldn’t resist buying a bagful of beers to take back to Leeds, including Lagonda IPA, Dobber and Utility Special.  Guests included Hartington Ale from Whim, who recently collaborated on an IPA with Marble.

My brother tells me that the place does get quite busy in the evenings and I can see why.  However my only criticism is that on the particular quiet, suburban Sunday afternoon we visited, some music would have done a lot to cut through the slightly nervous, hungover silence. 

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The End Of The Beginning: Marble Driscoll’s End

At the Twissup in York a few weeks ago, I was speaking briefly to Dominic Driscoll whilst waiting at the bar in Pivni. Dominic was one of the brewers at Marble Brewery in Manchester until recently, when he moved to Thornbridge.

That pedigree speaks volumes about Dominic’s passion for great beer and innovation. Marble and Thornbridge are unqualifiedly excellent breweries; standing either side of the Pennines, both have established a reputation for quality whilst refusing to rest on their laurels.  Dominic’s also a lovely chap, as just after I’d been telling him how much I enjoyed the last beer he brewed for Marble, Driscoll’s End, he gave me a bottle of it that he’d bottled himself.

I’ve just got round to drinking it and it’s superb.  It smells like the most welcoming beer in the world: a rich sweet tropical nectar.  The sweetness carries through to the first taste and then a rush of welcome but uncompromising bitterness flows over the tongue.  From the bottle, rather than on cask as I’d had it before, it tastes like the best US Pale Ale you could hope for.

So thanks very much to Dominic for the fantastic beer and please keep up the good work at Thornbridge.  Dominic has taken over blogging duties from Kelly Ryan on his departure from Thornbridge, and can be kept up with here and also on Twitter: @thornbridgedom.

The Cream Of Manchester Part 1: Port Street Beer House, Northern Quarter

April 1, 2011 3 comments

The English are terribly competitive when it comes to their cities. Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham would all love to be considered England’s second city, but certainly in cultural terms Manchester swaggers to the front of the queue wearing a zipped up parka, nods at the bouncer and gets in before the rest of us.

A trip to Manchester has been a treat for the beer geek for a number of years. A wander up the Rochdale Road to The Angel and The Marble Arch is far from picturesque but more than made up for by the hoppy delights within. Now there’s another destination in the Northern Quarter, Port Street Beer House.

The pub itself has a spare sophisticated cafe vibe with uncluttered dark green walls and a strongly designed theme and logos, which carry through from the menus to the glassware to the art. Appropriate music at a reasonable volume adds to the atmosphere whilst you peruse the excellent beer menu and pump clips.

Following my trip to The Rake a couple of weeks ago and the recommendation of Mr Jonathan Queally and others, I was excited to see Kernel S.C.C.A.N.S. IPA in the bottle fridge. This was a fantastic beer: a brilliant, searingly crisp fresh tropical fruit smell carried through into a lovely fresh taste, a mouthfeel which felt far less than 6.8%, and a lovely bitter finish.  Kate had a bottle of Kernel Citra, which I had raved about previously, and I think the S.C.C.A.N.S. is even better.

We also tried three thirds of the cask beers. Leadmill Niagara had a bready, malty smell, a nice mouthfeel with a subtle toasted malt taste. There was then a slightly sour raspberry bitterness on the swallow. Prospect Hop Vine Bitter had no hop smell, a creamy bland sort of taste and a bitterness on the aftertaste that required some searching out.  Hardknott Interstellar Matter had a rich coffee roasted smell and a nice roasted, slightly musty taste that made for a very good dark mild.

I also tried a Caldera Pale Ale, a 5.5% canned US import. This wasn’t as huge as the Caldera IPA I’d previously had, but was a lovely beer to drink, with good citrus bitterness.

We only popped in for an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, but for me the Port Street Beer House is definitely worth a special visit, especially given  the opportunity to combine it with The Angel and The Marble Arch.

However, I did note one glaring omission from Port Street’s comprehensive beer menu: Marble beers. It seemed odd to me that such a great menu would include beers from such gems of the UK craft beer scene as Kernel, Thornbridge, Hardknott and Brewdog yet ignore the jewel in Manchester’s brewing crown. I wonder whether this absence resulted from the competition between the two pubs.

For a better review of Port Street Beer House, please read this entry from Called To The Bar.

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